Thursday, 31 March 2011

Starbucks Reserve; A Decadent Winner

Anyone who knows me personally and/or follows me on Twitter will know this since it is brazenly highlighted on my profile; I love coffee, the stronger the better and please leave out the milk and sugar as I long to savour the lovely roast flavour of what is the finest nectar of all beverages. I especially enjoy trying as many blends as possible and the more bizarre or unique the bean/blend tend to set my coffee antenna alight. So try to imagine my giddy excitement levels hitting the roof when I stepped into my local Starbucks at Bristol Bridge and was invited to take part in a new and rare coffee experience - the Starbucks Reserve.

It may all come across as some form of big corporate hype designed to peddle highly expensive coffee that is probably on a par with the quality of their usual stock, and I will probably have to endure some abuse for posting the praises of a major corporation with questionable ethical practices (a topic of conversation for another time guys). As I sit here sipping my grande Tribute blend and typing away I can tell you now that after sampling all three bean types, the Starbucks Reserve lives up to the hype and beyond. Each of the three coffees have unique flavours as well as a fascinating story pertaining to their origins, the setting of which reads like an Indiana Jones tale.

Whichever one you decide to try (or like me you might go for all three) they are all made in the same way. A skilled barista will lead you to a little work station where there is a two tier griddle stand and two wide top cups. Into one of the cups a paper filter, not unlike those used for percolators, is placed. The paper is dampened slightly and the freshly ground beans are slotted into the lined cup. The barista then slowly pours boiling water into the top and the customer watches as the filtered coffee pours out of the bottom. The whole process just takes four minutes and it is the aroma that travels up your nose during that time that awakes the inner coffee connoisseur in us all. So here is my verdict

Aged Sulawesi Kalosi

The flavour of this rich bean is unmistakeable and packs a punch from the very first sip. There is a distinct nutty and cocoa taste in the background. It is strong yet a little smooth and would be ideal with a rich chocolatey accompaniment. This is largely due to the fact that the beans have been carefully aged over three years giving it that distinct flavour so that it has all the strength and richness of a powerful coffee without the bitter after taste. It is also the only coffee I have ever sampled that you can continue drinking even as it starts to cool, having maintained its flavour.

Fair Trade Certified Nicaraguan Corcasan

By contrast the Nicaraguan coffee has a much more subtle flavour. It is smooth and mild, unfortunately I am a coffee drinker who likes his beverage to dance a wild samba on his palate. This has to be my least favourite of the three yet I can't help but still find my self enamoured with it a little as drinking it was a veritable pleasure. It's mild undertone and smooth texture made it ideal on a day when I really was not in the mood for the POW! effect of a powerhouse brew. Again the subtle flavour has no after taste and just leaves you a little fresh and lively.

El Salvador Montecarlos Estate Pacamara

If Budweiser is the King of Beers  then the El Salvador coffee bean is the King of Coffee. The mere fact that the crop is harvested from a privately owned volcano raises one's eyebrows and has you grinning excitedly like a child ready to burst. This is a hybrid coffee bean that has taken 30 years to perfect and for me has been the coffee I have been waiting for. The flavour is a distinct blend of fragrant herbs with a citrus zing, ideal for enjoyment on a warm sunny day. The oxymoron you experience with this coffee is that even though you are drinking a steaming hot beverage (I have an asbestos gob, what can I say) you feel fresh and your thirst quenched as if you had just finished a glass of lemonade. Only time (and the mothballs in my wallet) prevented me from ordering another. Definitely the best of the three.

What is interesting about the Starbucks Reserve is that it has elevated the experience of coffee drinking to the same level as wine tasting. Coffee moves from being a quick fix to the focal point of the conversation. People might start talking about flavour and aroma of the El Savador Monetcarlos in the same way Oz Clarke would whittle on about a bottle of Claret. The Starbucks Reserve is the best thing to happen to coffee since the advent of the coffee shop but the stock is limited and therefore only available in 10 stores around the UK. If you have the opportunity, do try them and you might be surprised.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Telling Ann Coulter to Go Fukushima Herself

Everybody has at some point in their life (in some cases many times) met someone who constantly failed to engage their brain before opening their mouth. In the case of US political commentator Ann Coulter, it seems the brain vacated her skull a long time ago only she hasn't noticed. In her column entitled A Glowing Report on Radiation she makes an outlandish claim that exposure to high doses of radiation, similar to those pouring out from the Fukushima nuclear power plant is actually good for  you and helps ward off cancer.

Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore
According to Miss Coulter, the reason that this startling theory, which supposedly has the backing of many reputable nuclear scientists, has been disregarded by the media in its reporting of the crisis in Japan is because it lacks sensationalism. Coulter insists that for the last twenty years the media have instigated a form of hysteria over the dangerous effects of exposure to high doses of radiation. She cites the theory of Radiation Hormesis which claims that chronic exposures to ionizing radiation can stimulate the body's reserve repair mechanisms that can even stave off cancer. This is still theoretical and all studies have proven to be inconclusive hence why reputable organisations such as the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) have not accepted it as viable;
Until the [...] uncertainties on low-dose response are resolved, the Committee believes that an increase in the risk of tumour induction proportionate to the radiation dose is consistent with developing knowledge and that it remains, accordingly, the most scientifically defensible approximation of low-dose response. However, a strictly linear dose response should not be expected in all circumstances. UNSCEAR report
Yet Coulter continues to pass this off as accepted fact quoting spurious studies to back up her ridiculous claims. What is sickening however is that she has the audacity to downplay the devastating effects of the nuclear explosion at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, not to mention the lack of sensitivty towards the families of the Fukushima 50.  In an effort to peddle her junk, Coulter makes an appearance on the US right-wing Rupert Murdoch owned television channel Fox News and explains what can be laughably called her theories to presenter Bill O' Reilly.

I should point out that I am not a fan of Fox News nor of O'Reilly but I have to raise my hat to the man who very calmly exposed more holes in Coulter's premise than a block of the finest Swiss cheese. Her argument that the stories reported in the media are nothing more than lies purported by anti-nuclear campaigners is very much akin to climate change deniers who believe that global warming is a socialist conspiracy designed to undermine capitalism and reduce the quality of life for all Americans.

The issue is not whether Radiation Hermoesis works, it may well do and no doubt scientists are still looking into this possibility. Ann Coulter however is the epitome of hardcore conservatism in the US, leaving even some neo-cons seeming moderate in comparison and people listen to her because she spouts her poison so loud and with an air of authority.  Luckily an organisation called Left Action has started a petition expressing outrage at Coulter's comments, and challenging her to back up her claims. For every signature collected Left Action will donate one penny  towards the cost of Coulter's flight to the Fukushima plant where she can assist with clean up operations, minus protective gear. I seriously doubt she will take up the offer.